Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scott Belsky Says Managers Need to Avoid Distractions and Take Time to Focus on Their Long-Term Aims

How to Make Your Dream Project Happen. By Javier Espinosa
Author Scott Belsky Says Managers Need to Avoid Distractions and Take Time to Focus on Their Long-Term Aims WSJ, Aug 24, 2011

Even the most successful managers sometimes struggle to turn their ideas into reality. But some authors, creative teams or companies manage to be more productive than most. So, what distinguishes them from the rest, and what can we learn from them?

Over the past 5½ years, Scott Belsky, author of "Making Ideas Happen," met with hundreds of individuals and teams at companies such as Google and Apple to find out how they go about executing their projects. He is the founder and chief executive of Behance, a self-described New-York based "creative professional platform." whose main aim is to help creative thinkers see their ideas develop into actual results.

"We spend too much time focused on innovation and creativity and not enough time on the execution side. Ideas don't happen because they are great or by accident. They happen because there are other forces at play," he says.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in London, Mr. Belsky shared some of his tips for turning ideas into concrete outcomes. The interview has been edited.

Embrace 'micro action'

A lot of the creative teams [I met with] will find micro actions to push ideas forward, rather than always sitting back and waiting for the perfect time. We are often are told to "think before you act" but I found it's never the right time to do something new. In fact, it's always the wrong time because you always find a reason why you should wait.

Escape the 'reactionary' workflow

Everyone is struggling right now with the same thing. We have entered the era of reactionary workflow. We are constantly connected, have our devices with us at all times. Right now you are probably receiving emails, voice mails, text messages, Facebook messages…all of this stuff is coming to you. You could live a life of simply reacting to what's coming in rather than being proactive in what matters most to you. You can slip into reactionary workflow the minute you get up in the morning with your phone and everything else. You can never have an impact on your long-term stuff. We will never push an idea forward unless we find ways to manage it.

Book time to think about the longer term

Executives I work with preserve what I call windows of nonstimulation in their day. They book themselves two- or three-hour chunks and they don't focus on their to-do list or their email. Instead, they are focusing on two or three things that important to them over the long term. They are revisiting their business plan during this enforced period of [thinking] time.

How to avoid the 'project plateau'

If you have an idea to write a novel, your energy and excitement will be extremely high. You are willing to stay up until three in the morning writing that first chapter. But then four days later your energy is going to start going down. You will realize that you are behind on your other deadlines and you are going to find a million reasons to get back to what's urgent. You then enter the "project plateau" where most ideas die.

The one thing that's really important to keep yourself engaged with a project even though it's no longer new is to kill off [subsequent] new ideas. The whole premise of the project plateau is that there is a lot of energy and excitement when a new idea comes but it's really important to work with people who are doers. If we spread our energy too thinly the main project suffers.

'Insecurity work' is bad for you

Five or 10 years ago, when you wanted to know how things were doing you waited for the data to get to you. You got a weekly report, or a quarterly report. Today, executives walk around with applications that allow them to see to the minute the number of visits to their website.

The problem with this is that there is a new type of work that we are starting to do. I call it insecurity work. It's stuff that we do repeatedly throughout the day: searching Twitter for a keyword. When you are leading a bold creative pursuit you always want to know that it's OK. We should really delegate this work to somebody else. If your job is to lead a creative project, you shouldn't be filling your day with this stuff. I

The power of accountability

The power of accountability was a big theme that I saw in everyone that I met. They all had stories of having an idea within a company but not sharing it. And then suddenly for some reason putting it out there and being held liable for it. That was always a good turning point for them. Chris Anderson, author and editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, says every time he has an idea he puts it out on his blog. People ask, first of all, aren't you afraid somebody is going to steal your idea and, second of all, aren't you worried that you are sharing it prematurely? The answer: the more I share the idea, the more likely people are to hold me accountable and help me refine it.

—"Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality" is published by Penguin.

Views on the balanced budget amendment

1  In favor: Considering a Balanced Budget Amendment: Lessons from History, by E Istook, (Spanish:

Abstract: Attempts at passing a balanced budget amendment (BBA) date back to the 1930s, and all have been unsuccessful. Both parties carry some of the blame: The GOP too often has been neglectful of the issue, and the Democratic Left, recognizing a threat to big government, has stalled and obfuscated, attempting to water down any proposals to mandate balanced budgets. On the occasion of the July 2011 vote on a new proposed BBA, former Representative from Oklahoma Ernest Istook presents lessons from history.

2  Against from a conservative or libertarian viewpoint: The Balanced Budget Amendment's Fatal Flaw. By PETER H. SCHUCK
Nothing would give judges more policy-making power.
WSJ, Jul 22, 2011

A balanced budget amendment (BBA), a hardy perennial in Congress, is once again in the headlines. This is entirely understandable. The public trusts neither the president nor Congress, regardless of the party in control, to strike and maintain an economically healthy, sustainable balance between federal spending and revenues. Thus, the idea of tying them to the constitutional mast, Ulysses-like, so that they cannot succumb to the inevitable temptation to spend more and tax less is itself tempting to many reformers and voters.

Nevertheless, many sound objections to a BBA exist, which the current version—indeed, any version—cannot adequately address. Many of these objections, such as the need for deficit spending in a recession, are hoary Keynesian pieties and will resonate only with liberals and moderates. But one objection, largely absent from the debate so far, should convince even the most hidebound conservative to strongly oppose the BBA.

I can think of no other law that would empower judges to exercise more political and policy-making discretion than a balanced budget amendment. It would quickly realize every conservative's fears of an "imperial judiciary" that "legislates from the bench"—even if the courts simply did their job and did not grasp for that power.

First, the courts would be swamped with challenges to every governmental decision with significant budgetary implications, which means almost all important decisions. As federal Judge Ralph Winter pointed out long ago, the judges would have to decide who, if anyone, would have standing to sue and who the proper defendant would be. If they ruled that no one had standing, then the amendment would be legally unenforceable, a dead letter. If the judges found standing, however, a host of exceptionally controversial legal-interpretation issues would arise.

Perhaps the most fundamental questions have been posed by Rudy Penner, who was Congressional Budget Office director in the Reagan years: What is a "budget," and which budgets are covered by the amendment? This is pivotal because the amendment would create an irresistible incentive for politicians to expand "off-budget" programs or establish new ones.

Social Security, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Postal Service and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are all off-budget and constitute a huge share of federal fiscal commitments. The BBA does not even mention this multitrillion-pound gorilla, nor does it deal with the creation of new off-budget spending programs which would certainly proliferate in its wake, so a judge would have to decide whether they are included. (The state and local equivalent dodge of balanced budget rules is the "special district"—some 40,000 nationwide—which often has taxing power. )

The BBA also uses the basic term "tax" as if it were self-defining, but of course it isn't. Indeed, one of the key issues in the legal challenge to ObamaCare is whether the spending mandates in the legislation constitute a tax (as the administration argues) or a penalty (as its opponents claim). Only the courts can decide—and so far they have split on the issue. This is political power of a high order, given the importance of the legislation.

Then there are the classic ploys that governments use to evade budgetary restrictions, about which the BBA is also silent. Does the amendment's term "outlay" apply to long-term capital investments such as infrastructure spending, of which the Obama administration is so fond? If not, we can anticipate lots more spending being called capital investment. The judges will have to decide whether the amendment applies or not.

Does "outlay" cover government loan guarantees—a form of subsidy used promiscuously by government to avoid budgetary constraints? Does "revenue" include so-called "offsetting receipts" such as the large amounts that Medicare beneficiaries pay for their physician and drug benefits? If so, we can expect Congress to use more of them. Again, the courts will have to decide.

It does seem clear that the amendment would not cover private expenditures mandated by government regulation of individuals and firms. After all, regulations affect private budgets, not governmental ones; that is part of their political appeal. If the BBA passes, then look for the politicians to transfer much of their spending desires into a burst of new regulations. For conservatives, this should be a nightmare.

The political pundits report that there is no chance that the balanced budget amendment will pass. This should be cause for conservative celebration, not disappointment.

Mr. Schuck is a professor at Yale Law School and the co-editor, with James Q. Wilson, of "Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation" (PublicAffairs, 2008).